In less than half an hour, a Toyota Prado drove up.
This Japanese car model was very popular in Arizona. Although its safety rating was lower than that of similar models', it had fewer problems, lower fuel consumption and was easier to maintain.
There were many deserts in Arizona, so the roads were quite flat. Besides being able to speed very well, the Toyota Prado was also spacious and suitable for such environments.
The pot-bellied boss Owen got out of the car and formally shook Li Du's hand. He was more polite than before. "Li, happy to receive your call. Please come to my shop for a chat. Also, you were not kidding, right?"
Li Du laughed as he waved his hand. Godzilla, with a mighty heave, carried the safe out of the car.
Big Quinn opened the safe to reveal the pile of small boxes inside. In the boxes were the dazzling gemstones.
Their colors were like firemagnificent and beautiful. They were real opals.
Looking at these gemstones, Owen was visibly moved. "My God, you did it! You dug up an opal mine?"
"It was just sheer luck," Li Du laughed.
Owen's shop was in Winslow; it was family-style western jewelry shop. The main door, which was made of an oak material, looked like it had seen better days.There were also a few old kerosene lamps hanging at the door's entrance.
"We passed this by before," Sophie said curiously, "but we had thought it was an antique shop."
Owen laughed. "Actually, it was formally an antique shop. But since my father 's time, we have gone through a transition from selling antiques to jewelry."
Li Du had a better eye for things now. He looked at the kerosene lamps hanging at the door under the roof and said, "These are not props, but real antiques I suppose?"
At the mention of these lamps, Owen beamed. "Yes, buddy. I must say that you have a very good eye for things.
"These four lamps have been passed down by my ancestors, and have at least 200 years of history. These are trademarks of our shop."
Sophie said in surprise, "200 years? Oh gosh, Arizona was not yet part of America at that time."
"When our family first came to Winslow, it was still the wilderness," Owen said proudly. "Actually, the whole of Arizona was wilderness. It developed gradually."
In contrast to the antique style of the shop, its interior was much more modern-looking.
The shop's overall layout was like a maze, with bulletproof glass counters interlocked in a circular manner. The counter could be seen from each of the four corners of the shop.
The shop was not big, but it was not considered a small outfitthere were six employees busy working in it.
There were gemstones and ores of various colors and lusters at the counters. Magnesium lamps were affixed at each corner of the counter, illuminating the gemstones so that their radiance was a feast for the eyes.
Owen brought Li Du into the office, while Godzilla and Big Quinn stood at the sides of the door with both of their hands on their hips. They looked formidable, although they maintained expressionless stares.
Upon seeing them, a few people selecting jewelry in the store asked the staff, "Who's this gentleman? He's probably somebody powerful!"
The staff exchanged glancesthey had no idea.
As Li Du and Sophie took their seats in the office, Owen asked them what they would like to drink.
After being in the wilderness for two days, Li Du didn't want any other beverage except plain drinking water. Sophie followed suit and asked for drinking water too.
As Owen was busy playing host to them, two appraisers around 50 or 60 years old came in to appraise the gemstones.
Since it was first discovered during the Roman era, the price of opal had remained relatively high.
In the 1980s, when most people's monthly income in China had been less than 100 RMB, each carat of top-grade black opal could fetch as much as 450 US dollars. Those that were worth more than 10 carats, each carat could fetch as much as 7,500 US dollars per carat.
Of course, the prerequisite here was that it had to be top-grade black opal.
In recent years, as the global situation had remained relatively stable, the value of the jewelry continued to rise further.
On average, for this decade, the appreciation in the value of opal had increased about ten-fold.A 50-carat raw opal that was sold for 50,000 dollars in 2001, could fetch about 250,000 dollars based on today's market rateeach carat was worth about 5,000 dollars.
As the value of opal continued to increase, its production had declined gradually.This resulted in counterfeit ones emerging in the market, such as doublet opals and synthetic opals. The appraisers were present so as to address this.
Drinking his water, Li Du asked, "Are there many fake opals?"
Owen said, "There are many, but they are not meant for cheating customers. They are made to be a new type of material for accessories. Many can't afford the real opals, and so choose the man-made opals because they are equally beautiful."
It was very easy to determine the authenticity of the opals, compared to appraising diamonds and rubies and other such gems. It was unlikely for sellers to try and fool customers with such items.
Therefore, during a purchase, the seller would specify if the opal had been pieced together or synthetic. Being inexpensive while still featuring the beauty of opals appealed to many consumers.
The two appraisers worked fast. Upon the conclusion of each appraisal, they would not only indicate if it was genuine on a small card, but also include the valuation of each gemstone.
Li Du did not know much about opals and was taking the opportunity to learn. He followed the two appraisers to observe them as they conducted the valuation, as well as pepper them with his questions.
Opals were not made of a hard material and were similar to glass. They possessed the sheen of the glass resin, which was a crystalline state of amorphous materials.
The appraisers made use of two sciences in their appraisal: physics and chemistry. Using physics required them to make use of magnifying lenses.
"Look, if we examine the magnified version closely, the color spots on natural opals will look irregularly shaped. Its edge will be flat and blurry, and its surface will look silky."
"Also look at this through the optical display. Natural opals have unique optical effects. This is the illusion effect, and this is the cat-eye effect."
"It's rare to see the cat-eye effect. Once it appears, it means that the value of this piece of opal is very high. It has to be priced differently."
The appraisers were not only checking the gemstones' authenticity, they were also assessing the grades of the gemstones.
There were various ways to classify the grades of opals: the most common classification was to group them according to the number of colors and color variants on them: single hues, triple hues, five hues, seven hues, and so on.
Basically, the more color variants it had, the greater the intensity of the color changes. It then had a higher value.
In addition, there were also other factors to consider when grading: such as hue, brightness, pattern design, colored layers, defects, and color changing. These were the main factors in play when valuing an opal.
Li Du had belittled this type of gemstone. He had not heard of it when he was still in China, and had regarded it as something insignificant which he could easily learn about.
It was, in fact, far from the truth. He had known little about opal not because the gemstone was unpopular, but because it did not have a large market in China yet.
Due to historical and cultural reasons, the Chinese preferred jadeite and jade, and so it was not easy for other gemstones to penetrate the market.
However, in other parts of the world such as Europe, America, Japan and even Hong Kong, the popularity of opal was very high, with the market being relatively mature.
Even about half a century ago, when top-grade black opals had been discovered in Australia, they would not enter the people's market but were instead offered to the British royal family, aristocrats, or sold to the tycoons in Europe and America. These were specially catered for the rich and aristocratic.